Backers of I-186 use photos like these to show what happens when mining companies don’t protect nearby streams. Those opposed to I-186 argue these photos are old news and that the mining industry has greatly improved environmental protections.

Election 2018 preview

Legislative referendums and initiatives on the ballot
What’s the difference between an "LR" and an initiative and what is each trying to achieve?

I-185, an initiative to extend Medicaid expansion and increase tobacco taxes

Here, in its own words, is why the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce supports I-185:

The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce today announced its official endorsement of I-185, the Healthy Montana Initiative. Serving as the voice of Big Sky business since 1986 on behalf of its more than 400 diverse members, the Big Sky Chamber champions a healthy economy and works collaboratively with community stakeholders as a catalyst to improve the overall quality of life in the region.

“After thoughtful review of I-185, it’s clear that this initiative will continue creating jobs, saving the state money on healthcare costs and providing an important lifeline to rural hospitals. It’s important that we as local chambers speak up on behalf of our members on this vital citizen’s initiative. Smoking costs Montana businesses $368.9 million annually in lost productivity—I-185 is one way to curb that by investing in a healthier workforce and healthier communities,” said Candace Carr Strauss, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO.

I-185 will fully fund Medicaid expansion in Montana while also providing funds for tobacco cessation programs and veterans services such as suicide prevention.

A recent University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research analysis of Medicaid expansion in Montana shows it has infused more than $500 million into Montana’s economy while reducing state spending to the tune of more than $40 million to date. The report details very clearly that Medicaid expansion in Montana has:

1)   Reduced medical debts,

2)   Prevented bankruptcies,

3)   Improved credit scores among            working families.

Fewer Montanans are going into bankruptcy because of a medical emergency and are able to continue working thanks to Medicaid expansion.

The opposition to I-185 is funded almost entirely by the global parent corporations of some of the world’s largest tobacco companies. The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices just ruled those companies have been violating Montana campaign finance laws in their effort to oppose I-185.

Increasing the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack will: 

-       Decrease youth smoking rates by 20.6 percent,

-       Prevent 8,000 Montana kids from becoming adult smokers, and

-       Help 9,300 adults quit smoking.

Curiously, the Montana Chamber of Commerce does not share these views. It asserts that: 

I-185 is poor tax policy, by singling out one industry to finance a state program that impacts people beyond that industry. It violates the principles of good tax policy: it is not broad-based, reliable or fair.

Additionally, the Montana Chamber feels that combining two issues (a tax increase and Medicaid expansion) into one decision at the ballot box is not a good approach. Given the complexity of these two issues, this ballot initiative unnecessarily circumvents the legislative process and a thorough, informed discussion. Each issue should be considered carefully during the legislative process. The Montana Chamber will remain engaged in conversations about Medicaid expansion policy and legislative proposals for its renewal in Montana.

What would I-185 do exactly? It would increase taxes on all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and all vaping products. The taxes would be increased $2 per pack, bringing the total taxes on a pack of cigarettes up to $3.70. The taxes for all other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and all vaping products, would increase by 33 percent of the wholesale price. Revenue would be used to extend and fund expanded eligibility of Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act in Montana and other health-related programs. The measure would eliminate the expiry date of extended Medicaid services for certain low-income adults, which would otherwise end on June 30, 2019.

Made up your mind? 

A “yes” vote supports the ballot initiative to extend expanded eligibility for Medicaid coverage and raise taxes on tobacco products to fund Montana’s Medicaid expansion programs (which would otherwise expire on June 30, 2019) as well as other healthcare-related programs.

A “no” vote opposes the ballot initiative to extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion and raise taxes on tobacco products, thereby allowing Medicaid expansion to expire on June 30, 2019.

I-186, an initiative requiring the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to impose stricter protections for water quality

I-186 focuses on reclamations plans, which are plans to rehabilitate and restore land that has been used for mining. Supporters argue that mining companies should be held to higher standards for ensuring that mines do not lead to pollution, specifically water pollution. They also argue Montana taxpayers are often left with the bill to clean up environmental damage caused by mines.

Opponents argue that the measure would effectively end mining in Montana and result in job losses and economic damage. They also argue the initiative could cause lawsuits. 

In a recent guest opinion, Rex Rogers—co-chair of the Montana Union Sportsmen’s Alliance—emphasized how mining in Montana “currently generates over $2.7 billion of economic output annually in our state and proposed projects could add another $450 million to Montana’s annual economic output and generate $35 million in new tax revenue. If I-186 is passed, proposed mining projects will not be able to move forward and Montanans that may have otherwise been able to build a life in our state and contribute to our economy will be forced to look elsewhere.”

Rogers continues: “Mining has, and continues to be, a driving force in our economy and supports the livelihoods of many who are lucky enough to call Montana home. Vote No on I-186 to protect balance between mining and the environment that we have worked hard to create here in Montana.”

Tom Reed with Trout Unlimited offers different take. He turns to this example to explain his point of view: “Consider this: At the headwaters of Montana’s famous Smith River a foreign mining company, Sandfire Resources, wants to build a copper mine. They spend tens—maybe hundreds—of thousands of dollars on a PR campaign to tell Montanans that they will ‘do it right from the start,’ that they are a ‘modern mine,’ that they are environmentally responsible and will not leave perpetual pollution. Yet when push comes to shove, they want us to trust them. They don’t support I-186, which would provide the very parameters they claim to want to adhere to, to ‘do it right.’ They, and a handful of other foreign-controlled mining companies, are spending millions of dollars to fight a law that fights pollution and promotes responsible mining. If you claim to be doing it ‘right’ why would you fight a law that requires you to do it right?”

Reed goes on, saying again of mining companies: “They want us to trust them. Here’s who I trust: Montana voters who care about clean rivers and our Montana way of life. I trust they’ll vote for clean water, for property rights and for our future in November.”

Montana LR-128, funding for higher education

If you’re a property owner or have kids in school headed for college, this legislative referendum is a big deal. Montana LR-128 would levy a six-mill tax on the taxable value of all real estate and personal property subject to taxation—all for the benefit of the Montana University System.

The funds raised from the levy would be deposited in the state special revenue fund. A six-mill tax rate is equivalent to $6 for each $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, reports 

“If approved by voters, the act would be effective Jan. 1, 2019, and would terminate on Dec. 31, 2028. Approval of the ballot measure would provide an estimated $20.9 million in fiscal year 2020 and $21.5 million in fiscal year 2021 for MUS. Should voters reject the measure, the tax would terminate and cease as a source of revenue for MUS,” continues in its rundown. 

The six-mill tax for higher education was first levied after a public vote in 1948 and has been reauthorized at the ballot box every 10 years since. But not without some pushback from opponents to funding public higher education. 

“The University System behaves in the same manner that we see from all governmental agencies: Ever asking for more money, but never moving toward self-sustainability,” offers the group Montanans Against Higher Taxes in its assessment of LR-128. “With no incentive to model itself financially after viable private institutions, MUS simply continues its march down the path of increased spending and capital debt acquisition. The costs of this fiscal irresponsibility are borne by Montana property owners, already squeezed by the hearty appetites of local government.”

Those opposed to LR-128 also ding MUS for a reportedly low graduation rate. On the other side of the issue are groups like Montanas For The Six Mill, who promote all the “benefits from efforts like the scientific and agricultural research at universities and colleges that keeps farmers and ranchers on the cutting edge of new technologies and practices and helps protect our fisheries and public lands.”

Running the numbers, Montanans For The Six Mill touts how: 

 —The six-mill levy is a Montana tradition. It is a commitment to our kids that has been approved by Montana voters for 70 years. This is a critical investment in our future generations and our state.

—The six-mill levy benefits all Montana communities. Every community benefits from efforts like the scientific and agricultural research at universities and colleges that keeps farmers and ranchers on the cutting edge of new technologies and practices and helps protect our fisheries and public lands.

—The six-mill levy keeps education more affordable for all Montana students and families. Montana students are paying 60 percent of tuition costs out-of-pocket, more than double a generation ago. Without the levy, tuition could rise by 18 percent, making college unaffordable for many Montana students and families. 

 —The six-mill levy readies graduates to compete for the jobs of tomorrow. The levy ensures Montana students have opportunities at four- and two-year colleges to help them compete for the jobs within a year of graduation. 

—The six-mill levy funds go directly to Montana universities and colleges. Distribution of six-mill levy funds is discussed and approved by citizens across the state who sit on the Montana Board of Regents.

LR-129, a ballot collection measure

Those backing this measure worry there needs to be a law against people allowing others to collect and submit mail-in ballots. Those opposed say LR-129 is an unnecessary solution searching for a non-existent problem. 

LR-129 was designed to prohibit a person, with exceptions for certain individuals, from knowingly collecting another person’s election ballot.

A “yes” vote supports this measure to ban persons from collecting the election ballots of other people, with exceptions for certain individuals.

A “no” vote opposes this measure to ban persons from collecting the election ballots of other people, with exceptions for certain individuals.

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